How To Reformat Hard Drive

If you are installing a new operating system, you are looking to sell your computer, or you have an internal hard disk. The best way to clear files and start from scratch is through formatting a hard drive.

While this is straightforward to accomplish, many computer users have never done it, or are unsure how to proceed to wipe a partition in case they damage their PC.

In our guide, you can learn all you need about the different ways to formatting a hard drive, and how you can clear all your data, so it is safe for anyone to use. (Learn How To Erase External Hard Drive)

Hard drive in white background

By the end, you’ll know how to format hard drive for a mechanical disk, or a solid-state drive. The steps are the same, though one will accomplish the task much faster.

What Happens if I Reformat My Hard Drive?

When you format your hard drive, you are erasing any information on your drive. In many cases, you need to accomplish this during the process when you install Windows.

Many times, this will be the installation of your operating system, such as installing Windows 10 over Windows 95 or other operating systems.

Without formatting, your computer operating systems can’t read or write data. You can find your hard drive split into partitions, these you can reformat inside Windows using a disk utility, Windows partitions can’t be formatted as it is running.

If you have any data on the disk, all this will be erased, so you need to make sure you back this up beforehand.

Will Formatting a Hard Drive Erase It?

You can’t format a C drive, or any drive Windows is installed on, from inside Windows. You can discover the Format option won’t even be enabled for any drive you have Windows installed on. If you use macOS, the steps would be slightly different. Rather than a C drive, you will have your primary drive.

It will be the primary drive or primary hard drive that contains the OS.

You will find that no matter how you format a partition, an external drive or a flash drive, you may not see your data, yet that doesn’t mean it can’t be read.

When formatting a drive in Windows, data isn’t totally erased, the degree of this will depend on the version of Windows, and the type of format option you select. For instance, you can format to hide the data from Windows, yet a disk recovery program can find it in certain situations. (Learn How To Delete Everything Off Laptop)

How To Reformat Hard Drive

Here you can find all the steps you need to format a drive on Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP should you still be using these older versions. When you need to reformat macOS systems, you generally wouldn’t be changing operating system as it is Apple Hardware.

  1. Open ‘Disk Management’ (Windows integrated hard drive manager)
  2. The easiest way to open is to type diskmgmt.msc in the Run dialogue box or inside the Windows Start menu. (You can use Control Panel in earlier Windows versions)
  3. Search for the drive you want to format in the list at the top half of the app. (may need to maximize the window)
  4. Check the ‘Capacity,’ ‘Free Space,’ and drive name. If you have a small amount of space that is nearly used up and the name is something such as ‘Flash,’ this could be your USB.
  5. You can right-click on any drive and select disk ‘Open,’ which will open Windows Explorer to check the contents of the drive.
  6. If you can’t see your drive, or you spot the ‘Initialize Disk’ window appears, it will be a new drive, or it has never been partitioned. You will need to partition any drive before it can be formatted.
  7. Once you find the drive to format, select the drive, then right-click on the drive and select ‘Format’ from the drop-down menu.

A small box appears with a few options.

  • Old Drive: If you’re formatting a hard drive you want to use and have been using it for storage, and there is data on it.
  • New Drive: If formatting new hard drives, the way to check is look at ‘File System’ the top part of Disk Management. Existing drives show file systems of NTFS or FAT32. Any new drive you want to use will have a RAW type associated with it.

In the pop-up box of the disk management app, you can see the following options.

Volume label: Enter any name you wish to give your hard drive. Backup, Flash or External, or any other name you desire. If it already has a name you can use this if you wish.

Woman with white shirt using laptop

A drive letter is assigned during partitioning, or you can do this through a separate procedure after the format is complete.

For the File System, make sure to select NTFS. The only other option may be FAT32 or FAT16.

NTFS is the most recent and should be selected. FAT32 or FAT16 only available if your drive is 2 GB or under. These are also old formats and less secure than NTFS.

Allocation unit size is best to select the default.

Perform quick format checkbox is next. By default, this is enabled. If you are keeping your hard drive, you can use this as it is much faster. if you want extra security, or you are disposing of your computer, select ‘standard format.’

Using a standard format, every sector on your hard drive will be scanned for errors then overwritten with a zero. Depending on the drive partition, this can take hours. It checks the drive is error-free and overwrites old data better, although you can still recover some.

Quick format skips the sector checks and overwriting with zeros.

One last option is available, and that is Enable file and folder compression. It will be unchecked, and it is advised to leave it. Enabling will compress your files and slow down your reading and writing

If you see the following:

  • Volume label: Old or new name, your choice
  • File system: NTFS
  • Allocation unit size: Default
  • Perform a quick format: Unchecked for security, leave checked for speed
  • Enable file and folder compression: Unchecked

Click OK, and accept the warning messages about wiping data.

You can also format a hard drive in Windows right from the File Explorer. Right-click on any drive you want to erase and choose format from the pop-up menu and then the quick format box.

You can choose the same options, yet it saves taking an extra step to open an extra app on your computer.

When you format for Windows and Mac, or even Linux, you will need to use NTFS, or for an external, you can use the exFAT format as these are the only file system format that macOS and Windows can read. (Read Our Quick Guide to Restoring Computer To Earlier Time)

If you have a USB or CD/DVD, you can insert the Windows disk for your installation process, and you will come to the disk formatting options as you go through the install process.

How To Reformat Hard Drive